Featured image credit: Wikimedia Commons
On Tuesday, the first train that’s scheduled to carry passengers (albeit press and other invited parties) will depart London St Pancras for Amsterdam Centraal, to celebrate the tickets going on sale for the public launch day of 4th April. It’s the culmination of over 5 years of planning, and will offer a travel time of 3 hours 41 minutes from the heart of London to the centre of the Dutch capital.
However, on the return journey through passengers aren’t accepted between Amsterdam and London, and passengers will need to get a Thalys as per current arrangements as far as Brussels, due to security & immigration arrangements not yet being finalised, allowing passengers to clear UK border controls in the Netherlands. Simon Calder, writing for The Independent, holds the view in this article that in most cases flying will be more time-efficient until these security and immigration controls are in place at Rotterdam & Amsterdam (unlike Simon in the above article, I’m more optimistic they’ll be in place within a year or so). This article offers my own slightly different take on this.
I agree that the people who are likely to make most use of the new direct service are those based within an hour or so’s journey of St Pancras – including the majority of Greater London (perhaps with the exception of those living near to Heathrow), the Home Counties and large parts of Kent. This puts the total travel time to the centre of Amsterdam for these people at a maximum of 5 and a half hours, once you take into account the checkin time requirements.
The flight time itself is only just over an hour, however when you add on travel to/from an airport at both ends (from landing at Schipol, even if just with hand luggage, to arriving in central Amsterdam is unlikely to be under an hour, even with the quickest possible connections) and the 2 hour buffer airlines recommend you leave for European flights (compared to just 30-45 minutes for Eurostar), the time works out much the same in a lot of cases.
The return is currently an hour or so longer, due to the change of train from Thalys to Eurostar in Brussels and going through passport/security formalities, but – as you can board up to a couple of minutes before departure – the overall time loss compared to the direct service is only around 30-45 minutes.
A Thalys service at Amsterdam Centraal – passengers will have to board a train such as this one as far as Brussels on the return journey to London until next year – image from Rob Dammers on Flickr
Ticket prices start at £35 each way – and the demand-based pricing tiers seem roughly comparable with the equivalent prices by air, so this, too, doesn’t really affect the decision one way or another.
Where Eurostar comes into its own, however, for both leisure and business travellers, is the time efficiency it offers. Business travellers can be working from the moment they board to the moment they alight at the other end with the provided plug points and free wifi in all classes of travel, there’s no liquid restrictions (excessive amounts of alcohol aside) and – generally speaking – delays when they do occur are less extreme than those when travelling by air, especially when flying from regional airports.
I’m personally looking forward to trying out the new service – and if I ever have the need to go to Amsterdam for business, I won’t hesitate to use this new service rather than flying, even before the full juxtaposed security controls are in place allowing for the direct service returning from Amsterdam.